After nearly 50 years of independence, Rolling Stone is putting itself up for sale. Wenner Media, the company controlled by magazine founder Jann S. Wenner and son Gus Wenner, will sell its controlling stake in its flagship music publication, the New York Times reported late Sunday night. The paper states that Gus, 27, engineered the sale plans; Jann, 71, described selling as “the smart thing to do.”
Independent ownership, long a point of pride for Rolling Stone and any such publication these days, has become harder to maintain as the magazine industry consolidates in an effort to survive. Rolling Stone’s ad revenue and magazine sales were reportedly down in recent years, and outward signs of Wenner Media’s financial strain were already evident. Last September, the company accepted its first outside investment, selling a 49% stake in Rolling Stone to a Singapore music tech startup called BandLab Technologies. Earlier this year, Wenner Media sold two of its other magazines, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal, to National Enquirer publisher American Media, Inc. Those two titles together had brought in about three-quarters of Wenner Media’s revenue, according to the Times.
Editorial decisions and missteps may have also played a role in Rolling Stone‘s troubles. While the brand remains iconic, Rolling Stone‘s distance from its heyday can only grow over time, and the magazine has had to balance the interests of its core readership with the need to attract new eyeballs. Investigative journalism helped set Rolling Stone apart, but its reputation took a hit after it was forced to retract a 2014 article about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. Earlier this year, a libel lawsuit stemming from that piece resulted in a $3 million judgement against Wenner Media, the magazine, and the writer.
Both Jann and Gus Wenner told the Times they intend to stay in their jobs, but acknowledged that decision may be up to the future owners. They declined to name any potential buyers, though Jann Wenner said he hoped to find one with “lots of money.”